With Labor Day announcing the unofficial end to summer, I noticed something on my neighbor's lawn that filled me with dread: fallen leaves! (Thank God it was not my lawn. Yet.)
Autumn always makes me think about the laborious task of raking leaves off my lawn -- day after day, week after week. What kind of meaning and growth can I derive from raking thousands of leaves off my lawn? Why did God create a world where I need to do all this raking?
In Kabbalistic thought, the seasonal calendar is a reflection of the spiritual calendar. The environmental conditions of the world are landmarks for the spiritual growth we should be experiencing during that season. Specific times of the year are predisposed to hardship, and other times are predisposed to renewal and joy. We might call this "spiritual weather."
Environmental conditions are landmarks for the spiritual growth we should experience during that season.
This is why the Hebrew word for time is zman, which means "prepared." Each moment in time is already prepared and predestined for a specific type of growth. In addition, the Hebrew word for year is shana, which means to repeat -- because every year contains the same basic elements of the previous year, but with new opportunities for growth.
The spiritual power of renewal that exists in springtime is physically manifest in the budding of new fruits and flowers. Summer's spiritual hardships are manifest through the oppressive summer heat.
ANTIDOTE TO DEPRESSION
What is the spiritual message of the fallen leaves in autumn? And why does God make leaves transform into beautiful, magnificent colors just before they loosen from the tree, float to the ground, and die?
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, always occurs in autumn. This is the time of year when Jews are to introspect and evaluate the state of their souls. You might call Rosh Hashana services the "Annual State of the Soul Address."
God does not want us to become spiritually dejected, so He sends beautiful autumn leaves.
Too often, we may delve deeply into our souls and find much lacking. These thoughts can depress us and make it difficult to plan and achieve growth for the coming year. God does not want us to become spiritually downtrodden and dejected, so He sends us the beautiful autumn leaves.
Driving on American highways in the fall is often a remarkable sight. As Grace Aguilar writes in her poem, "Autumn Leaves":
How beautiful your fading glories are,
O'er hill and dell, o'er wood and fell,
ye shed rich light afar,
Of every gorgeous hue and shade-brown,
ruddy, green, and gold,
Each glance more brilliantly arrayed, new glowing rays unfold.
God truly makes a rainbow of colors in the leaves. Why?
Rav Tzaddok (in "Likutei Ma'amarim") describes leaves as a symbol for righteous actions. These include simple actions which are not always accentuated or perceived. Similarly, The Talmud (Sukkah 21b) explains the verse in Psalms 1:3, "[A righteous person] shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth fruit in its season, and whose leaves do not whither." The Talmud says that "leaves" refers to the simple, idle conversations of righteous individuals that are conducted without forethought and go unnoticed.
God shows us beautiful leaves during the introspective season of autumn because He is reminding us of positive and pure actions that we have overlooked. We have accomplished greatly during the past year, yet we do not usually give ourselves credit for meaningful and righteous deeds. We need to know that we have much to build on for the coming year, and we should take pride in who we are and what we have done. Yes, we need to improve and eliminate some misguided deeds and character traits -- but we can only do that by building on the positive accomplishments of the past year.
ONE BY ONE
We must also realize that even though we have many good deeds under our belts, we can never rest on our laurels. The beautiful leaves fall and the tree remains bare to show that we must start to build new and better deeds in the coming year.
The tree remains bare to show that we must start to build new and better deeds in the coming year.
Yes, we rake in all of our leaves, all of our hundreds and hundreds of magnificent holy actions, but we must renew and start again to grow new leaves. We must make all our actions, all our leaves, "for healing" -- for helping others and ourselves achieve great heights -- as the prophet proclaims: "So its waters will grow from the Sanctuary, so its fruit will be for food and its leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 47:12)
In a week or two, I'll be heading outside with my rake in hand. But instead of feeling frustrated by the mounds of leaves, I will try to contemplate my actions, one by one, leaf by leaf. I will gather all of my deeds from the previous year, and look to create more of those healing leaves that cure, one by one, the spiritual darkness and disease in our lives.